Although it has been since January 27th that I last dined at “Studio” at the luxurious Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, it seems as if it was just yesterday that I was able to experience the wonderful flavors I savored that special evening. I must tell you, the fact that I shared the evening’s culinary treats with my daughter Monica, herself a classically French trained chef, made it an even more spectacular food adventure…we both felt like kids in a candy store waiting for the next awesome bite of yummy goodness!
Welcome to lovely Laguna Beach Chef Craig Strong! Formerly of the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, Chef Strong has been serving gastronomic delights at Studio since May of 2009. Laguna Beach is also fortunate to have Chef Craig and his lovely wife reside in town. Guys, that way we have him in very close proximity to the restaurant to oversee quality control and maintain consistency in his kitchen! You may even “run” into him sometime since he takes advantage of this town’s numerous beautiful hiking and biking trails (note to self…that’s probably why he appears so lean and fit under his chef’s coat!).
Our evening included a six course tasting menu which Monica and I thoughtfully customized. Where most restaurants are sticklers to their printed menu and what is to be served that evening, Studio is very accommodating when it comes to satisfying their dining guests allowing you to mix and match their menu. There is NO SPLIT CHARGE and complimentary Sole Sparkling and Figi bottled waters (oh..."SNAP" all other restaurants that charge for quality bottled water)! In addition, the freshly baked crusty bread rolls are delicious and served with organic, lightly-salted butter. Heck, I could eat crusty bread rolls all day long (with a lovely dry Chardonnay, of course).
Although the amuse bouche of grilled asparagus, Serrano ham and red pepper couli was wonderful, I won’t describe it in detail. Our first course was “Chilled Kusshi Oysters” from British Columbia which were lusciously plump, moist and I could taste the fresh ocean in each bite. Chef Craig floats the oysters in a tomato consommé and serves them with a quenelle of Bloody Mary Sorbet. Utterly delightful!
The “Roasted Beet Salad” was served two ways and it was unlike any other beet salad I have ever tasted. First and foremost, the visual presentation was almost too pretty to eat with ultra thin slices of fresh red beet wholesome, goodness which were then shaped into gentle flower raviolis and filled with cauliflower cream then topped with gracious amounts of caviar which was spooned onto a bed of horseradish dressing. Oh Lord, please have mercy on my gluttonous soul! The thicker yellow beet slices each had a trout fillet which were perfectly seasoned with salt and blended well with the sweet fresh root slices.
I could go on and on about how fabulous the remainder of my meal was but decided the four other “tastings” were all pretty spectacular in and of themselves. That being said, the dishes were: “Pan Seared Monterey Calamari”, “Dungeness Crab Leg Risotto”, “Sautéed Hudson Valley Farms Duck Breast”, and a “Toasted Meringue (which had the appearance of a fat, luscious, toasted, marshmallow) with Passion Fruit Crème, Banana Fritter and Passion Fruit Banana Sorbet”.
In all fairness to all you serious foodies in blog land you deserve to know every detail about the mouth watering Crab Leg Risotto I experienced! For those that love and appreciate risotto, Chef Craig makes a killer version. First of all, this particular dish is very difficult to perfect…there is a lot of stirring involved and attention to detail in making it and the grain (Arborio rice) needs to be served al dente. Chef, job well done! Your risotto was perfectly creamy and ‘al dente’ at the same time with mega chunks of sweet Dungeness crab legs, essence of preserved lemon, vanilla bean and mascarpone cream. In addition to the fabulous flavors, this dish is served with teeny tiny eatable baby orchids (from the vanilla bean family). If you click on the accompanying photo you will see the beautiful teeny orchid flowers. Heck, go to Studio for this dish alone…worth the trip!
I have only one complaint…my preference would have been to have a tad bit more “acid” flavor in my naturally spicy arugula salad which accompanied my stuffed calamari dish since the garlic aioli was a little too creamy for my palate (I prefer a more tangy aioli...a personal preference). A dash of lemon juice would perfect an otherwise wonderfully emulsified salad dressing andother than that, I am back to Studio as soon as I drop a couple of fatties. This whole blog thing is conflicting with my fitness goals. Oh well, a gal has to prioritize…right?!?!
In a nut shell, the service was great (alas, I do expect great service at a high end resort such as The Montage), the food very well prepared, visually intriguing and wonderfully delicious.
Closed: Monday and Tuesday.
Hours: 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Reservations Required and Upscale, Elegant Attire.